House debates

Monday, 24 June 2013

Private Members' Business

Human Rights: Vietnam

8:11 pm

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the few minutes available to me, let me reiterate how this issues arises. A motion was moved by my colleague the member for Fowler, I believe, on Vietnam and political prisoners in Vietnam. It detailed many cases. The issue was broadly discussed by members on both sides raising concerns about a wide range of human rights abuses that are believed to occur in Vietnam. The debate occurred on the very day that the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue occurred. The debate progressed up until the lunch break and some divisions were imminent, and I thought there would be five minutes for me to report on the dialogue. These dialogues occur quite regularly in relation to China and in relation to Vietnam. Members do not always have the opportunity to participate, but on this occasion I, with the member for Werriwa, was able to participate in the Australia-Vietnam dialogue, representing the Australian parliament.

I believed it was desirable to report to the House on the way in which that dialogue was conducted. I was particularly impressed with the way in which the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the 10th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue raised a number of issues that were of substance, were real. I was particularly impressed with the way in which Vietnam responded to those matters. I would like to brief colleagues who are interested in what is happening in Vietnam on those matters.

The objectives for the 10th round of the dialogue were to streamline the discussions and affirm Australia's view that human rights issues continue to be an integral part of the broader Australia-Vietnam bilateral relationship. There was a concern about freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of information in Vietnam. We wanted to discuss a list of cases and to encourage Vietnam to release those in detention and to lift restrictions on others, and to express concern at the sharp rise in the number of cases on our lists over recent years as well as the severity of sentencing that had occurred, and to welcome what we believed were some areas of improvement in relation to legal reforms, women's issues and religious freedom.

I was present when Australia took up particularly the cases of Father Ly, bloggers Diev Cay, Ta Phong Tan Phan Hai as well as the 14 bloggers convicted in January, and a number of musicians, and also took up cases of some of the Buddhists, particularly the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, whose case I have been particularly interested in.

It was quite interesting during the discussions to see the way in which Vietnam was responding. I am fairly open in relation to these matters. I examine fairly critically what I believe are the facts, but it was of interest to me that Vietnam reported that, in relation to some of the more significant sentences that have been imposed, they were more frequently using the system that we understand to be parole. They spoke of that and, to the extent that we receive reports that people are being released earlier than might have been expected, it was a very positive development.

There were also issues raised in relation to the death penalty. The death penalty is a human rights issue, which is of concern to members of this House. The interesting aspect of the report from Vietnam was that, while they had not abandoned the use of the death penalty, they were narrowing it in relation to the types of offences for which it might be used particularly focusing on those relating to drugs and those relating to injuries to individuals and the like, these sorts of offences that we would regard as being fairly serious in the Australian context. I wanted members to know that these issues were being progressed. The discussions were very positive and it all demonstrated to me the desirability of members of parliament participating in these dialogues in the way in which the member for Werriwa and I were able to on this occasion.

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Reid, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.